2011 Way Too Cool 50k Enhanced Course Map

I’m one of the lucky ones who got into Way too  Cool 50K next Saturday.  The official course map I found hard to read, and a little annoying in the way it was cut up.  Personally, I like to see course elevation, directions and distance between aid stations all on one page.

The first 8 miles - flattish but prone to navigational errors

It appears the first loop is more prone to errors than the rest of the course despite being only 8 miles, judging by the directions, so for these reasons I put the first loop on page 1 and the second on page 2.

The business end - the last 23 miles

These are definitely not pretty, but hopefully they are functional and readable while running 🙂

Obviously a huge thanks and credit to the writers of the instructions, and the Fit 2 Run, Inc. folks who did the topo maps, hence the source credit on the bottom of each page.

 

Please let me know of any errors you find, or if you know the actual mileage marks of some of the turns as I had to guess some of them by eyeballing the map and interpolating the instructions.  I’ve uploaded it as a PowerPoint show (.ppsx) so you can edit in PowerPoint with your own annotations or just print it as is.

WTC 2011 50k course

Hoping you may find these useful, and hoping to see you out there on March 12th 🙂

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12 reasons why you should run an ultra instead of a marathon

Finishing at Quicksilver – my daughter is running me in 🙂

I’m still a little baffled by my recent experience successfully completing the Quicksilver 50 miler. Like much else in ultra-running it appears counter-intuitive. Maybe I was just lucky.  Isn’t 50 miles supposed to be way harder than a marathon? Shouldn’t the body break down after 8 ½ hours of running, leading to some sort of self-actualizing moment? I think I heard trail running is growing faster than any other sport. For those of you looking for a challenge to get you motivated to get fit, I offer 12 reasons why your next challenge should be an ultra instead of a road marathon.

1. Way better bragging rights
It seems like every man, woman and child has run a marathon by now. Tell someone you’re running a marathon and they’ll just nod and wish you luck. If you say you’re running an ultra, you invariably pique their interest. Almost no one even knows what an ultra is, let alone has run one. When you explain its longer than a marathon the average person’s eyes widen in awe. Bonus: the easiest ultra is 50km, which most people will confuse with miles, so you may well get credit for 50 miles, even though you’re only running about 31 miles.

2. No one cares how fast you run it
After your first marathon, it’s all about how fast you can run it. Can you qualify for Boston? Because no one know what on earth an ultra is, they have no idea how long it should take. Especially if it’s in kilometers. Add in the fact that every ultra trail is different with staggeringly different terrain, and that when things go wrong, the minutes can really add up, and you have completely unpredictable race times. And once you start talking about being on your feet for over 5 hours, everyone is so amazed by the duration, they never get around to computing the velocity.

3. Fewer injuries (you can run the next day)
If you’ve ever run a road marathon, if you don’t get injured trying to make it to race day,  you know how beat up you are after you finish, hobbling around. Not so with ultras.  You can even start training for them injured and still finish just fine.  After my first 50km race, I ran 6 miles with my wife the next day. A week after Quicksilver, I ran 10 minutes faster than I ever have on one of my favorite 13 mile trail courses. They say you should only run 1 or 2 marathons a year because of the damage it does.  There are people running ultras every other week.  My theory on this one is that in a road marathon, if you’re running for a specific time, you’re redlining the whole way. You want to cross that finish line, completely spent without a drop of energy left in your body. On an ultra, you always run within your means to avoid blowing up. To give you a sense of this, if I put the hammer down in a trail run, I invariably get crippling calf cramps after about 2 ½ hours, no matter how much water, electrolytes and/or salt tabs I take . As soon as I back off 5-10% in effort, I can run 8 ½ hours without cramping. Just like a car can only redline for a short time before overheating, we humans can only keep going if we stay consistently below the redline.

4. Walking is encouraged
There’s a certain degree of animosity in road marathons between the runners and walkers. Not so in ultras. And only the top contenders can actually run up those hills. Mere mortals keep heart rates under control – see the comments on redlining above. If you want to finish, don’t waste your energy running up the hills. Once the perceived exertion, or heart rate (if you’re using a HR monitor) hits your lactate threshold, time to back off and walk. But learn how to bomb the down hills – such an easy way to make up time.

5. More happy people
If you’ve ever been in a marathon, you’ll know there’s a large number of extremely tense people. They are very stressed about running their best possible time. At an ultra, people are there to have a good time, take it easy, and enjoy the scenery. There is no prize money at stake – everyone gets the same t-shirt or finisher’s medal. So there’s just a ton of goodwill and camaraderie.

6. It seems like you get better as you get older
The proportion of folks in their fifties, sixties and seventies running ultras is way higher than for marathons. I’d like to think this is because they’re just plain wiser. And they obviously have a lot of time on their hands. But given all that free time, the running must be pretty fun for it win over all the other recreation options they could choose. And finally it can’t be too bad for you, if seventy year olds are still doing it.

7. You can eat whatever you like
In the world of marathons and triathlons it’s all hi-tech energy drinks, bars, gels and powders. Hardly what Michael Pollan would call “food”. At ultras there are typically bananas and oranges and cookies and potatoes and PB&J sandwiches at aid stations. There are tales of people eating pizzas at aid stations. Chocolate milk, turkey sandwiches and burritos are popular. Not only do you need a ton of food if you’re running for this long, but you’re stomach tends to enjoy real food much more than gels or other concoctions. At Quicksilver I couldn’t get gels to go down, but my body was just taking as many bananas and potatoes as I could eat. Because you’re not redlining, your body can digest more complex foods. And of course, if you’re running all those miles and burning all that fat, you get to eat more in general, which is a huge plus.

8. No more speed work
Every time I’ve tried to add speed work to improve my marathon times, I’ve got injured. With ultras, if you’re going anaerobic, unless you’re actually in a position to win a race, you’re going too fast. Just not necessary. Ok, you need to run a lot of hills. But the best training is literally time on your feet learning how to run long, easy and smooth, and how to burn fat. You’ve got about 2000 calories available as glycogen from carbohydrates, but 50,000 from fat. No amount of carbo-loading is going to meet your needs, so your body has to be comfortable using those fat stores – that means you need a few long (3 hours plus), slow training runs.

9. Less time training
Despite these long runs, you really don’t need to run that much.  Arguably you can get by with less than you need for a marathon. A lot of marathon programs involve up to 6 days a week of training with mileage in the 30-50 miles per week range. Much like my training for the Quad Dipsea, I ran Quicksilver with 12 weeks of training in the 25-50 miles per week range based on just 3 days per week of aerobic training: a long run (12-32 miles) on the weekend, up to 1 hours in the gym with some combo of bike/elliptical/stairclimber/ fast hill walk/ fast run, and a medium 6-10 mile run. I even stopped the yoga and stretching. I periodize each 4 week bracket into 1 hard, 2 medium and 1 easy week, and do 2-3 longer long runs (18-32 miles) and 1-2 shorter long (12-16 miles) runs per week. I try to do 2 races as part of the prep – around 20 miles long for a 50km, or 50km for a 50 miler. These build confidence and simulate the challenges of trying not to run too fast and how food and drink go down when you’re running a little harder. . As I said, it’s all counter intuitive. How can one do so little, and still run strong for nearly twice the distance and over twice the time of a marathon?

10. More fun
Trust me it’s a lot more fun to run 3 hours in the woods than 3 hours on the road. The scenery is way better. You’re mind calms down in amongst all that nature. Plenty of time to think through all your problems. You get to witness the passing of seasons as wildflowers come and go, the trails get muddy and dry, the creeks and waterfalls get full and then empty. And because you’re not redlining, no need to spend the afternoon in bed recovering.

11. You don’t need to buy any fancy gear (but you can if you want to)
In your first ultra, don’t be tempted to try to outrun the old-timer in a ratty old cotton t-shirt, cotton shorts and beaten up no-name sneakers. I tried this on in my first 30km trail race, and was trashed by a guy matching this description who ended up coming second in the 50km on that day. Mind you that was 10 years ago, and the front runners now are typically sponsored, and most people are wearing all manner of technical gear. If you’ve got the cash, it’s can be fun to buy a bunch of gear. It’s just nice to remember you don’t need it. If the Tarohumara regularly run 50 miles in sandals and a tunic, so can you.

12. If you listen to audiobooks, you can “read” a book a week
This is a bonus. You can appear amazingly well read even if you don’t like reading (which I do, but if you’re not travelling, and if you fall asleep when trying to read horizontally, it can be hard to find the time). Sometimes it’s great to just run for the sheer pleasure of it: no watch, no HR monitor, no headphones, just taking in the sounds and sights of the forest. Other times, a good book can be a very enjoyable way to pass the time on a long run. I’ve enjoyed listening to and learning from: Crush It!, Outliers, The Big Short, The Omnivore’s Dilemma and most of all , Born to Run on my long runs this year.

If you’ve already made the switch to ultras, I’d love to hear your reasons for switching.  If you’re thinking about it, what’s stopping you?  Have fun out there.

Monkey See, Monkey Do – A Barefoot Running Clinic

sf leap courtesy of foxtongue

If you’ve read Born to Run, and you’ve been overcome with a desire to throw your expensive, cushioned running shoes away and run barefoot, you’re not alone.

Barefoot Ted, profiled in the book, was running a couple of clinics down at ZombieRunner, in Palo Alto, and it seemed too much like serendipity not to give it a try. (In case you’re wondering how much he’s like the character McDougall profiles in the book, well he sure can talk, but he’s more humble and less frenetic in person, which was a nice surprise.  He was sporting a rather large silver monkey necklace, inspired by the El Mono animal nickname he picks up in the book.  Ted was of course barefoot, and the feet are not freakish as you might suspect from years of being barefoot, rather they appeared very smooth, as if coated on the base with a supple leather.  No one got to actually touch them!  Also, ironically, Ted claims to now have more shoes than he ever did before gaining notoriety, because all these shoe companies are sending him their back to nature shoes, seeking his endorsement.)  Final sidebar, Zombie Runner offers fantastic espresso available from a small cafe station within the store, an unexpected supplement to a very nice collection of running gear and excellent service.

Barefoot running is full of surprises.  If you’re like me, you probably have this mental perception some part of your body is going to break if you try running or jumping without the protection of your running shoes and orthotics (if you have them).  If you’re going to be crazy enough to run without  shoes, surely you start on nice soft grass?  Not so.  It’s a “mystery surface” according to Ted.  You never know what bumps, sticks, insects, or sharp objects might be hidden amongst all that green plushness.  So we started on asphalt.   We started walking first on our heels and then on our forefoot and back again.  You can literally feel the impact up through your heel, calf bone all the way to your knee when you heel strike.  Ouch! You instantly know instinctively that you couldn’t possibly run with a heel strike without a cushioned shoe.

Running barefoot is such a surprise.  I dare you not to break into a smile the first time.  Maybe not quite as ecstatic a leap as in the picture.   It’s like one of those other incredibly liberating physical experiences, a flow moment, where you feel like a kid again, in touch with the earth and your body.  Like in the book, you start with easy, and go for smooth.  Ted has a post on the technique. Small, quick footsteps, fast cadence (about 180 steps per minute).  Touch ground for the shortest possible period, with least possible noise.  Imagine you’re hunting – you can’t surprise the prey if you’re feet are slapping loudly on the ground.  Core strong, arms pumping straight back and forth.   We ran back and forth and received our critiques.

We also jumped up and down some concrete stairs at the Caltrain station.  I found this terrifying at first, but it rapidly builds confidence.  Jump deliberately and stop between jumps.  Use your arms to counterbalance.

The trick to transitioning to barefoot running seems to be building up to it slowly.  You don’t just head out for 6 or 10 miles tomorrow.  Start with barefoot around the house.  Then maybe walk the dogs barefoot.   Then start at 1/2 a mile and gradually add distance.  Tendons, muscles and skin in your feet and legs will adapt.  I don’t really understand how it works (the foot is an architectural marvel), but it feels good enough to keep working at it. Thank you Ted.

Let me know if you’re interested or given it a try yourself.  I’d love to hear about your experiences.

We have a reserve tank

When your brain tells you you’re done, it turns out you’re not. Just like in a car, it’s a conservative safety measure designed to make sure you always have something left, even when you think you don’t.  If you’ve ever worked out, you’ve probably experienced this.  If you can quiet the mind, you can always do a few more reps.  Sometimes people on drugs chemically turn off the safety valve and exhibit superhuman strength.

Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich from WNYC’s marvellous Radio Lab explored this in their recent show “Limits“. From the transformational tale of Julie Moss, who collapsed at the finish line of the Hawaii Ironman in 1982 (you’ll probably remember the video).  The voice in her head said “get up”.  In their description of the amazing 3000 mile  Race Across America, you’ll hear about what happens when the cyclists push through this safety valve.  For example, a soldier in the race thinks he is being chased by Mujahideen and just takes off, sprinting like crazy.  A fascinating piece of research found that cyclists directly injected with glucose into their muscles experienced no improvement in endurance, but if they swirled sports drink in their mouth and then spat it out, it tricked the brain into thinking more energy was coming, and the conservative empty signal was temporarily shut down resulting in an increase in endurance.  (Perhaps related, in Born to Run , it describes Kalahari bushmen taking a tiny sip of water and swirling it in their mouths to revive themselves, rather than gulping it down.)

To me, this explains what ultrarunners do when they find a way to keep going.  If you’re running for 8, 10, 12, 18, 24, 36, even 48 hours, you’re going to run out of steam at least once .  Like the example of Scott Jurek, arguably the greatest ultranunner ever, 7 time champ of the premier 100 miler, Western States,  lying down exhausted in the “world’s toughest foot race” the Badwater 135 mile race from Death valley to the portals at Mt Whitney.  As retold in Born to Run, he was way behind the leader, he has a conversation with himself while lying on the ground, gets up, and somehow finds a way to not only keep going but to blow the competition away and win.

In my upcoming 50 miler, if I end up feeling like I can’t go on, I hope the voice in my head says “keep going”  🙂 At any rate, it’s handy to know my brain is just trying to trick me, and if I dig deep, should be able to tap into that reserve tank.

Funny is in the eye of the beholder

My first ever caption contest submission

Since reviewing Dan Pink’s A Whole New Mind, I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to enter the New Yorker’s Cartoon Caption Contest.  (See my review of the Play section here).

It should be no surprise that the finalists aren’t necessarily the ones you’d consider the funniest, as humor is a product of our cultural and family backgrounds. I have no idea how many vote each week, and can only guess at the profile of New Yorker readers.  What is awesome is that you can see all 200 or so entries in any given week here, and order a t-shirt with your favorite caption.  The creativity is phenomenal, and I think this is a great way to get a laugh and revel in the collective brilliance of humanity.

Hope you enjoy everyone’s entries.  You can vote on this week’s entries today.  Felt like a good way to brighten up a Monday 🙂

Success = Luck + 10,000 Hours

Blatantly obvious when you put it like that. No doubt there are some examples of success with only one, but one of Gladwell’s objectives is finding how to help more people be successful with more certainty.

Luck is hard to generate, but understanding how culture affects aptitude is not (in other words you don’t get to choose where you were born or how you were brought up, but you can understand the unique strengths that set of circumstances will bring).

In Outliers, Gladwell does a brilliant job of breaking down the American obsession with the myth of the self-made man. I can’t decide if I’m thrilled or not with this conclusion.

On the glass half-empty side, if you’ve got to be in the right place at the right time and it takes 10,000 hours of hard work to be successful, why bother? Accept your fate.

On the other hand, from the optimist’s viewpoint, what could you excel at given your background and what you love doing. This is an extremely insightful way to review your life. It’s remarkable how seemingly small events can add up to powerful determinants of future success. For  Bill Gates, Gladwell recounts how it was being at a school which had one of the first  computers in the world that allowed online processing enabling him to rack up 10,000 hours while still in his teens.  For the Beatles, their extensive live stage time in Germany is also cited as a key driver of success.  The biggest determinant of which kids makes it to the elite in classical music?  Practice time.  If you’ve got kids, now is a good time to think about whether you’re helping them to really practice the things they love.

BTW, the book is very entertaining, because Gladwell is such a great storyteller. I recently had the misfortune of picking up The Town the Food Saved which could have been full of wonderful stories about country characters and how they turned a dead mining town into a thriving local food community. Instead it was an extremely dull history where you got all you needed to know from the jacket – artisanal, local food is good for the planet, profits, and the local community. At least reading something like this makes you realize how good authors like Gladwell are.

If you look back at your life, you’ll discover unique twists and turns that have set you up for success in a number of areas. Why do some people lose that trail, while others keep the passion alive? Is it parental intervention, the influence of peers, just wanting to fit in, or chasing a pot of gold? Discovering what helps people stay on track would be a great companion to this book.  For me, retrospection revealed product and process design, reviewing, cooking, and trail running as opportunities.  What would it help you to see in your own life?

Were we born to run?

Do you remember running as a child? If you’ve got kids watch them run. Unbridled joy and beautiful form in any kind of shoe. Why do so many lose this as they get older? What happened?  Currently, I’m training for my first 50 miler, the Quicksilver 50 Mile on May 8th. Tell people you’re running 50 miles and they look at you like you’re crazy. But lately, I’ve been enjoying running like I was a child again.

The unabridged audio version of Chris McDougall’s Born to Runhas only fanned the flames, filling me with conviction that I’m rediscovering what we were all meant to do. I was heading out in some brand new shoes when I got to the section which argues the heel strike advocated by Nike’s Bill Bowerman was only enabled by the cushioned shoes Nike was trying to sell, and this modified foot strike, is the source of most running injuries. Apparently, people get injured running more often now than they did in the 70s before the rise of this new foot strike and shoe type.

I was a prolific teenage runner, who used to have a natural midfoot-toe strike and who used to love just running.  About 10 years ago, I developed knee problems with a heel strike and overstriding (extending the leg straight out in front prior to impact).  Since reverting back to my natural style and spending more time barefoot, I’ve been running faster and with less injuries.  Chris McDougall tells of similar experiences.

The Vibram Five Finger shoe is the poster child for this new barefoot/natural running movement.  It’s a bizarre invention to those of us used to the modern running shoe, and certainly a conversation starter – a Vibram rubber glove for your feet.  You only have to look at the customer reviews to see how much people love these things, injuries decrease and they never want to wear heeled shoes again.  I’m going to get a pair myself to see if they address the chronic ilio-tibial band (ITB) issues I’ve been dealing with.

BTW, the book is fantastic on a number of levels and also a wonderful audio book that will make any workout fly by.  It builds to this incredible 50 mile race on the Tarahumara‘s home turf, by way of Chris’ personal story, and many wonderful side bars on legends and characters in the sport of ultrarunning like Scott Jurek, 7 time Western States 100 mile winner, and Ann Trason.  He explores nutrition and running shoes, and the amazing story of persistence hunting – a technique still practiced by a very few Kalahari bushmen, and a theory that we evolved to be able to actually consistently run antelope and other pray down via exhaustion (the key is not speed, but 3-5 hours of endurance and team work) and we evolved very specific body parts to assist with this.  In other words we were born to run.  If nothing else, I no longer feel like I’m the odd one for taking on a 50 miler.